The Washington Capitals found themselves leading the Southeast Division a week ago, but consecutive losses have them outside of the playoff picture once again.
The Caps look to avoid losing three straight for the first time in over two months this evening and yet another setback to the Pacific Division-leading San Jose Sharks, who are going though their own struggles as they try to hold onto first place.
Washington moved a point past Florida for the division lead with a 4-0 win over the Panthers last Tuesday, but consecutive defeats to Winnipeg (in a shootout) and the New York Rangers have dropped the Capitals four points behind the Panthers for that top spot.
Even worse, Washington sits ninth overall in the Eastern Conference, a point behind Toronto.
After earning a point versus the Jets last Thursday, the Capitals were edged by the Rangers 3-2 yesterday. The game-winning goal for New York came early in the third on Brandon Prust's short-handed tally.
Michal Neuvirth made 25 saves for the Capitals, who are 3-4-3 in their past 10 games and will try to avoid dropping three in a row for the first time since a four-game slide from Nov. 25-Dec. 1.
"The shorthanded one was the critical goal," said Capitals head coach Dale Hunter. "That was the big one where we gave up a shorty and it ended up being a game-winner."
Washington hasn't had too many game-winning goals when facing San Jose. The Sharks posted a 5-2 win over the visiting Capitals on Jan. 7, handing Washington its fourth straight loss in this series and 15th in the past 16 encounters.
San Jose, which has won seven of its past eight at Washington, got the game- winning goal from Patrick Marleau to go along with two assists, while Dan Boyle added three helpers as 10 Sharks skaters logged a point. Antti Niemi made 28 saves.
Tonight's meeting should once again feature some firepower as no skaters in the league have more points in the NHL since the 2005-06 season than Ovechkin and the Sharks' Joe Thornton. Ovechkin is tops with 657 points since his rookie season, while Thornton is second in that time with 627.
Thornton and his teammates were shut down by the Blues on Sunday, dropping a 3-0 decision after failing to get any of their 25 shots past St. Louis goaltender Jaroslav Halak. The Sharks lost for the third time in four games, getting blanked for the fifth time this season, but still lead the Kings by a point for the lead in the Pacific Division.
Niemi allowed a pair of goals on 27 shots, with both goals against coming with the Sharks skating on a two-man disadvantage.
"I liked our start," Sharks head coach Todd McLellan said. "We played the right kind of game at least for the first 10 minutes until we took the three penalties. After that, they got a little momentum back and started to play their game."
San Jose also went 0-for-4 on the power play as it lost the opener of a season-long nine-game road trip. It was the Sharks' fifth loss in their past six road games overall.
Logan Couture had his career-high eight-game point streak end with the shutout loss. The Sharks forward had logged five goals and seven helpers over his run.